Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Painting the flowers red: another residents forum, Part One

'Would you tell me,' said Alice, a little timidly, 'why you are painting those roses?' Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a low voice, 'Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we're doing our best, afore she comes, to — ' At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out 'The Queen! The Queen!' and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces ...

'Who are you talking to?' said the King, going up to Alice, and looking at the Cat's head with great curiosity.

'It's a friend of mine — a Cheshire Cat,' said Alice: 'allow me to introduce it.'

'I don't like the look of it at all,' said the King: 'however, it may kiss my hand if it likes.'

'I'd rather not,' the Cat remarked.

'Don't be impertinent,' said the King, 'and don't look at me like that!' He got behind Alice as he spoke.

'A cat may look at a king,' said Alice. 'I've read that in some book, but I don't remember where.'

'Well, it must be removed,' said the King very decidedly, and he called the Queen, who was passing at the moment, 'My dear! I wish you would have this cat removed!'

So, yes: another Finchley and Golders Green Residents Forum. Let us set the scene, before the main act ...

The senior management team did their best to keep last night's meeting secret,by not advertising it and emailing reminders to a privileged few residents at the very last moment, and made it almost impossible to submit any issues for what passes for discussion at these events, but Mrs Angry is an optimist and continues to attend the forums and attempt to ask questions, in the hope that it at least causes some inconvenience to the coalition of knaves and fools who run our borough.

At the last Forum, the Chair Reuben Thompstone had closed the meeting just as it was time for Mrs Angry's issues to be raised: wasn't that a coincidence? This meant that her question about the scandalous new park hire scheme was held over to last night's meeting.

1. The council has just announced plans to hire out parts of some of our local parks for private functions and other events. I would like to know:

a. Is it the intention of the council to allow any of these parks to be fully closed to the public for any event?

b. Has external legal advice been taken on the grounds for allowing such use of the parks?

c. Has an equalities impact assessment study been carried out?

d. Why has Friary Park been missed off the list of parks intended for the scheme? Has the Cabinet member for the Environment withheld it from the scheme and if so why?

e. The scheme includes Scratchwood greenspace. Is the Cabinet Member for the Environment aware that this location is known for its use by 'dogging' enthusiasts, and does the council really think this is a suitable venue for weddings and other such events?

In addition to this question, Mrs Angry added the following:

2. For further clarification in regard to the park hire scheme:

a. Please confirm that the consultation exercise carried out in relation to the park hire scheme is not, as many residents falsely believe, over the principle of hiring the parks out, but to 'consult' users about the variation of uses that the scheme may involve.

b. Please confirm exactly when the decision to hire parks out in his way was made, and by whom.

c. Please confirm that the total estimated revenue from the park hire scheme will be in the region of £30,000.

d. What are the estimated extra budget costs required in order to implement and maintain this scheme, for example in the use of extra supervisory staff, litter removal, insurance?

3. At a recent business meeting in Finchley, the Council Leader allegedly reported that Barnet Museum has been 'saved from closure' and is now being run by volunteers. Please confirm that in fact the museum has always been run by volunteers, and that the Museum is still facing an uncertain future as no agreement has been reached.

4. Church Farmhouse Museum and the surrounding grounds have now been put up for sale. Does the council intend to protect the grounds of this historic building from development and preserve them as a greenspace for residents, or will they be sold off for development?

6. Is it possible to review the level of lighting in Chaville Way, the approach to Finchley Central underground station? The lighting is totally inadequate, and is potentially a risk for the security of women and vulnerable travellers using the station late at night, Bearing in mind the determination to remove staff from ticket offices, and the frequency of muggings in the immediate vicinity of tube stations, it would seem a good idea to improve at least the perception of personal safety.

7. Can you tell us why, despite a payment of £80,000 to a company with whom Barnet has a non compliant contract for the work, the parking meters in our borough are still in place? They were supposed to have been removed by the end of November, 2011.

Have we paid the company in question for work left unfinished?

Surely it is more sensible to retain the machines and reintroduce the cash payment system?

8. Why has so little publicity been given to the latest Forum meetings? The reminder about the meetings sent by email is the only notification I am aware of, and does not give sufficient time for questions to be considered and submitted, and must cause inconvenience for council officers attempting to deal with the questions in such a short time.

After submitting these issues for the meeting, Mrs Angry was rather annoyed to receive the following response:

Thank you for below email. The previous questions were accepted for the last meeting and are on the Issues List for this meeting. Please note that answers have been provided (attached).
For the new questions only Question 6 (highlighted) will be placed on the Issues List as all the other questions are not public works issues and/or local issues specific to Finchley and Golders Green Residents Forum. The questions will be better directed to the relevant Service Areas and I have copied in the relevant Services so that they may respond to you directly
Qs 2 & 3 – Matt Gunyon, Leisure Contracts Manager
Q4 – Suzanna Ellis, Property Services
Q7 – John McArdle, Parking Manager, Environment, Planning and Regeneration
Q8 – Governance Service
Mrs Angry received a response yesterday from Mr John McArdle, in which he stated:

Dear Mrs Angry,

I understand that you submitted a question on the removal of pay and display machines for the Finchley and Golders Green Residents Forum, but this was determined to be a borough-wide issue therefore not a matter for that meeting.

This question has now been passed to me, and I can confirm that RM Countryside has been paid only for those machines actually removed and that the payment is far less than £80,000. I had planned to use this contractor for the entire job, but the Council’s procedures prevent this so another is being found. This will take time to organise.

These machines were decommissioned as part of the move to cashless parking and the internal structures for maintaining them and collecting cash dismantled to deliver savings. It would not, therefore, be practicable to bring them back into service as the Council no longer has the capacity to deliver such activity.

I trust that these comments are helpful to you.

John McArdle

Interim Parking Manager | Environment, Planning and Regeneration

Hmm. Mrs Angry has now replied to Mr McArdle:

Dear Mr McArdle,

Thank you for your email.

I have to confess to being rather amused by your response. The only reason the removal programme has been halted is because local bloggers discovered that the payment to RMCountryside was in breach of regulations, being made by the means of a delegated powers report to a company already acknowledged to have a non compliant 'contract' with the authority.

I imagine that you, Ms Pam Wharfe, and Councillor Brian Coleman would like to thank us for pointing out your rather unfortunate breach of the rules, and I am sure that we are all happy to continue to advise the council on the management of procurement and contractual obligations.

In return, it would be nice if we, and all other residents, might be allowed to raise such issues of concern at our Forums and not be censored on the spurious grounds you present in your response. It is simply ridiculous that you were obliged to attend last night's meeting, yet remained silent throughout as my perfectly reasonable questions in regard to parking was not allowed to be raised in open debate.

To inform me that we may now not even discuss issues that do fit the new definition of 'public works' if they are 'boroughwide' is outrageous, and I simply do not accept that this is the case. I would ask you to tell me where in the council constitution this new definition exists, or who has told you that this new rule must apply.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

To be continued ...


Mr Mustard said...

Dear Mrs Angry

There is a get out clause in the email that you have received, presumably from someone in governance. It is that they said your questions were not "public works and/or a local issue" so if your question relates to public works OR a local issue it should be accepted. The "And" is superflouous, like many senior management and councillors, and can be ignored.

Best regards

Mr Mustard said...

Mr Thompstone got Gee'd up a bit later didn't he!

baarnett said...

"Would you tell me, please, what I ought to do, to get my questions answered?"
"That depends a good deal on who you want to ask," said Democratic Services.
"I don’t much care who--" said Mrs Angry.
"Then it doesn’t matter who you ask," said Dem.Servs.
"--so long as I get them answered by SOMEONE," Mrs A added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the council, "if you only wait long enough."
(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

baarnett said...

"I quite agree with you about parking," said Richard Cornelius, "and the moral of that is - 'Parking is what you would seem it to be' - or, if you'd like it put more simply - 'Never imagine parking not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.'"

"I think I should understand that better," Mrs Angry said very politely, "if I had it written down: but I can't quite follow it as you say it."

"That's nothing to what I could say if I chose," Richard replied, in a pleased tone."But I'm only the Leader of the Council. About parking, there's absolutely nothing I can do."

(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 9)